Greenville, the county seat of Hunt County, is a commercial and manufacturing center sixty miles northeast of Dallas on Interstate Highway 30. The community was established in 1846, the same year in which an act of the state legislature established Hunt County. The act authorized the use of the name Greenville for the county seat to honor Gen. Thomas J. Green. The location of the town was decided by residents of the central portion of the new county, who, after ballots, chose a 640-acre site donated by McQuinney Howell Wright, a surveyor, land speculator, and early settler. The site of Greenville was "a great prairie covered with tall waving grass." The survey began on May 11, 1846, and auctions for town lots began on January 15, 1847. All but one of the lots in the four blocks facing the town's prospective square were sold. Later auctions brought additional sales in the new town. The first county courthouse, a twenty-two foot log building, was raised shortly after the first auction; it was funded by the sales. Hunt County's population increased rapidly, but since most of the county's residents lived on farms Greenville grew slowly. A post office opened in 1847; it was the only one in the county until 1849. Greenville's first school opened in the county courthouse in 1847; by 1850 a one-room school building had been erected to house the Greenville Institute, a private primary school. Greenville incorporated on February 15, 1852. The Masonic lodge, organized in 1852 or 1853, built a hall that was used for a school and for church services. The village's business section, a collection of log buildings, surrounded the courthouse square. By the 1850s a general merchandise store, three taverns, three grocery stores, a law office, two hotels, a drug store, and a few other businesses operated in the Hunt County seat. The Odd Fellows organized a lodge prior to the Civil War.
While Hunt County prior to the 1880s was not an important producer of traditional southern staple crops, such as cotton, rice, and sugar, the number of slaves there increased between 1846 and 1860. The county voted 416 to 339 in favor of joining the Confederacy. During the war Greenville raised and supported a company of soldiers that saw action in Arkansas and eastern Tennessee. Additionally, the Greenville Guards, organized and led by an antisecessionist former state senator, Martin D. Hart, acted as an unofficial homeguard. The end of the war saw the stationing of two companies of federal cavalry in Greenville in 1868. Such action was taken largely to maintain peace in the county, which was threatened by a violent feud between exConfederates led by Capt. Bob Lee of Fannin County and Unionists led by Lewis Peacock of Grayson County. By 1870 the force in Greenville had grown to include four companies of cavalry and one infantry. Greenville in 1872 began the practice of paying the tuition of interested students between the ages of eight and fourteen to attend any of the town's private schools. A school for freedmen opened in 1881. In 1884 the town took over the operation of local schools, renting the buildings for educational purposes. The following year saw the purchase of land and construction of two public school buildings. The Missouri, Kansas and Texas Extensions Railway arrived in Greenville in the fall of 1880, constructed through from Whitewright in Grayson County, and the East Line and Red River Railroad arrived in February 1881, the Dallas and Greenville Railway in 1886, the St. Louis Southwestern Railway in 1887, and the Texas Midland line in 1896. Greenville thus became a rail town, encouraging cotton production in Hunt County and stimulating the development of associated commercial and financial institutions. By the mid-1880s Greenville was a leading cotton marketing location.
Greenville's population was 3,000 by 1884. Two weekly newspapers operated in the community, which also supported fifteen businesses, including two banks, cotton gins, flour mills, and even an opera house capable of seating 800. The town's first water works was completed in 1889 and was later purchased by the city. In 1891 Greenville's municipal government purchased and began operation of an electricity generating plant, the first such municipally-owned utility system in Texas. By 1892 the city, described as the "principal city of . . . one of the richest blackland counties" in the state, reported a population of 5,000. Greenville also had a daily and three weekly newspapers, two national banks, two opera houses, and a number of manufacturing establishments, including an ice factory, flour and feed mills, a cotton compress, and the machine shops of the MKT railroad. The community shipped over $1 million worth of cotton annually and supported 200 businesses. In 1895 Burleson College, a Baptist junior college, began operations in a three-story building. The school offered instruction until 1931. Texas Holiness University was established on the northern outskirts of Greenville in 1889. The school continued until 1920, when it moved to Bethany, Oklahoma. Greenville witnessed the rise and decline of a small red-light district prior to 1910. A notorious incident of the period occurred in 1908, when a Greenville mob wrested away from officials and killed, either through dragging to a pyre or through the immolation that followed, a Black man accused of raping a White woman. No one was arrested for the murder, and the mayor defended the action. The sheriff later expressed doubt that a rape had actually been committed (see LYNCHING).
The population of Greenville climbed from 8,500 in 1900 to 12,384 by the mid-1920s. Wesley College, a private primary school and junior college, relocated from Terrell in Kaufman County to Greenville in 1912. The community offered the school numerous incentives, including the construction of three new buildings on a twenty-acre site, cash, and the extension of the local streetcar line to the campus. Wesley College remained in operation until 1938. By 1914 Greenville reported a population of 14,000, two daily newspapers, four banks, four cotton gins, a sheet metal factory, the largest cottonseed oil mill in the South, and four machine shops. The community also maintained four public schools and a 3,500-volume Carnegie Foundation public library. In 1925 Greenville had a population of 12,000, forty-six manufacturing plants, thirty-seven wholesale houses, and 375 commercial establishments. Natural gas was piped into the city from Dallas in 1926. Greenville grew from 12,407 residents and 400 businesses in 1933 to 14,697 residents and 595 businesses in 1952. During 1941 and 1942 the municipal government issued bonds worth $60,000 to purchase and improve 760 acres outside of the city for a federally-funded wartime air field. The air strip was named Majors Field for Lt. Truett Majors of Greenville, the first Hunt County man killed in World War II. The completion of the airfield proved significant in the city's efforts to attract nonagricultural industry. In February 1951 Texas Engineering and Manufacturing Company leased a portion of Majors Field for the purpose of overhauling aircrafts, generally for the armed services. The company began operations in September with a 400-person labor force. By 1952 the number of employees had doubled; by 1960 TEMCO employed 2,200; by the late 1960s, following a 1961 merger, Ling-TEMCO-Vought employed 4,600. LTV was the city's largest employer. Other local industries included the Henson-Kickernick and Shirey lingerie and sleepwear companies, the Electric Supply Company, and Mary of Puddin' Hill, Incorporated, bakers and retailers of fruitcakes. The community's population increased from 19,200 in the mid-1960s to 23,650 by 1976. During the mid-1970s LTV sold its Majors Field facilities to E-Systems Corporation, a major electronics and defense contractor, which has remained the city's largest employer. In 1990 the city had a population of 27,750 and 422 rated businesses. By 2000 the population was 23,960. The Hunt County seat is intersected by three railroads, the St. Louis Southwestern, the Louisiana and Arkansas, and the Missouri, Kansas, and Topeka, and numerous roads and highways, including Interstate Highway 30, U.S. highways 380, 69, and 67, and State highways 224, 66, and 34. Among the prominent individuals associated with Greenville was Thomas N. Waul, who lived at his farm, Cherry Hill, seven miles east of town. Buildings of interest include the post office, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Ende-Gaillard House museum. Greenville is also the site of the Hunt County Fair in August and the Cotton Pickin' Arts and Crafts Jubilee in November.